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Brand positioning has been a hot topic lately. Executives and owner-operators want a point of view on their perceived position in the market.

One ask came from telecom client, another from a university, and yet another from a distiller. These clients don't have a lot in common, but the implicit question seems to be this: "Is our brand correctly positioned for the coming economic recovery?"

It's good to see businesses looking ahead again.

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The hard part is understanding how to shift a brand without a solid comprehension of where the brand is positioned. A brand audit is a good tool to employ.

A brand audit is a holistic way of looking at a business – more specifically its value proposition married to the way it interfaces with the world. The orientation is definitely around the brand/messaging/promise portrayed inside and outside the company. The audit involves putting together a framework that allows the right questions to be asked of everyone involved, from employees to customers to suppliers.

Brand audits are designed to sort out perceptions around what a brand stands for and the perceived value proposition. They also end up touching on internal culture, customer experience and a host of related issues. For example, a brand audit on a premium furniture manufacturer might turn up concerns over production quality and showroom presentation, in addition to uncovering positive perceptions of the brand's position relative to its competitors.

A thorough brand audit compares internal and external perspectives. There are inherent objectivity risks tied to brand audits, so mitigating these risks is important. The most obvious option is to get outside help – an independent third party to design and conduct the study. This eliminates bias. For some businesses, this can be cumbersome or cost prohibitive. A second means of eliminating – or at least minimizing – objectivity risk is to conduct the audit in-house around a well-designed and rigorous process.

Who should be involved?

The business leader should be involved, but not head the study. There is too much risk of personal opinion clouding any questions that will be asked or any analyses that are undertaken. The project leader should come from the ranks or the management team.

What should the process look like?

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Ask a lot of questions. Ones that get at "how are we doing on…?" will be asked repeatedly. Many groups need to be engaged to get maximum perspective.

Each of the groups must be asked the same set of questions, so that answers can be compared. The questions should be designed by more than one person, and then vetted by many stakeholders in the business. A leading question would be "how valuable are our services to you?" An unbiased version would be "on a scale of one to 10, where one = poor and 10 = excellent, what rating would you put on the value of our services?"

March 6: The components of a basic brand audit, and how they are deployed. Look for it on the Report on Small Business website.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Healy, P.Eng, MBA, is a partner at Satov Consultants – a management consultancy with practice areas in corporate strategy, customer strategy and operations strategy. Mark's focus areas inside the customer strategy practice include consumer insights, customer experience, innovation and go-to-market strategy. He is a regular speaker and media contributor on topics ranging from marketing to strategy, in telecom, retail and other sectors. Mark is known as much for his penchant for loud socks and a healthy NFL football obsession as he is for his commitment to Ivey and recent Ivey grads. He currently serves as chair of the Ivey Alumni Association board of directors. Mark lives with his wife Charlotte and their bulldog McDuff in Toronto.

Join The Globe's Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues: http://linkd.in/jWWdzT

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